The exponential proliferation of the number of associations, clubs and other groups that distribute cannabis among their members and create new spaces for socialising, has surprised even the most optimistic advocates of more reasonable drug policies. In a short time, and in spite of those in government, civil society has provided a response to a problem that realpolitik has been unable to tackle.
Ecuador has entered a new era in drug policy and legislation. Twenty-five years after the last major legal reform, brought about by the famed Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Law (Ley de Sustancias Estupefacientes y Psicotrópicas, Law 108), which took effect on September 17, 1990, the National Assembly is about to debate—for the second and final time—the draft Law on Prevention of Drugs and Use or Consumption of Substances Classified as Subject to Oversight (Ley de Prevención de Drogas y Uso y Consumo de Sustancias Catalogadas Sujetas a Fiscalización.)
Three former Latin American presidents have declared the US-led “war on drugs” a failure and called for new strategies focusing on treatment to replace a repressive approach they say is discredited. The former presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil made their call at the launch of the Global Commission on Drugs Policies in Geneva this week. The three statesmen hope the new body will develop proposals that will move the global drugs debate away from prohibition and towards treating the issue as a public health problem.
The General Assembly of Cannabis Users Association Pannagh denounces the disproportionate intervention of the Municipal Police of Bilbao against the association and demands the immediate withdrawal of the charges against the three members who were arrested last Monday, in recognition of the fact that they have not committed any crime, taking into account that Pannagh carries out its activities according to the jurisprudence regarding the ’shared consumption’ such as has been approved by the Provincial Tribunal of Bizkaia in its decision to withdraw the prosecution that was opened by the municipal police in 2005.
The municipality of the Dutch city of Utrecht recently announced two scientific experiments on cannabis policy. One experiment will be to set up a closed club model for adult recreational cannabis users. Cannabis smokers will grow their own marijuana in a cooperative, a move which would go against the government's drive to discourage coffee shops. The other experiment concerns treatment for people who are vulnerable to psychotic disorders.
Latin American drug policies have made no dent in the drug trade; instead they have taken a tremendous toll on human lives. In 2009, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Transnational Institute (TNI) embarked on an ambitious project to document the real impact of Latin America’s “war on drugs” and to show its human cost through the video testimonies of the victims themselves.
In 2001, a small European country, Portugal, took a brave step, changing its drug policies and refocussing its efforts away from arresting and criminalising drug users, towards smart public health interventions. How did the political establishment of a Catholic-Conservative country come to such an agreement about decriminalization? How does the system work? Is it effective?
The world will be watching as Californians go to the polls on Tuesday and vote on Proposition 19, which would legalize and regulate marijuana in that state. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, however, it has already sparked an intense international debate, particularly in Latin America where the U.S. has long waged its “war on drugs.” Drug war critics and even some who have supported the U.S. approach to date are asking how the U.S. government can continue to call on Latin American governments to implement harsh drug control policies when at least some of those policies are being called into question in the United States itself.
The trend of "drug decriminalization" is quickly taking shape in Latin America. Increasingly, many countries are leaning toward decriminalization as an alternative approach, hoping that it will be effective both in reducing consumption and dealing with associated health problems.
The Institute of National Problematics of the University of San Carlos in Guatemala recently presented a new publication “Despenalization of drugs: Realities and Perspectives in Guatemala”. The new tendency towards legalization and/or decriminalization in the hemisphere stirred an internal debate about the need to revise drug policies in Guatemala towards policies with an emphasis on prevention and treatment of problematic use of drugs.
On the campaign trail, Otto Perez Molina vowed to rule his country with an iron fist. The retired general said he would send troops into the streets to fight drug violence. Analysts summed up his political platform with three words: law and order. Now – just two months after taking office – the Guatemalan president is pushing a controversial proposal that has come under fire from U.S. officials and earned praise from people who were once his critics. Last year's law-and-order candidate said he wanted to legalize drugs.
In April 2016, representatives of the world’s nations will gather to evaluate drug policy in a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS). While prohibitionist policies are still the norm, a rising tide of voices are demanding evidence based responses that respect human rights, promote public health, and reduce crime.
Ten years ago, in July 2001, Portugal decriminalized the use and possession of all illicit drugs including cocaine and heroin. Under the new legal framework, all drugs were “decriminalized,” not “legalized.” Drug possession for personal use and drug usage itself are still legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions are deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and are removed completely from the criminal realm.
In an online town hall session yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama suggested that, while he is not in favor of drug legalization, he does believe drugs ought to be treated as “more of a public health problem.” Obama went on to add: “On drugs, I think a lot of times we’ve been so focused on arrests, incarceration, interdiction, that we don’t spend as much time thinking about how do we shrink demand.” (See the video clip below for the president’s full remarks.)
Campaigners for a more evidence-based drug policy are horrified. "It’s a classic and appalling example of gutter politics,” says Martin Jelsma, Director of the drugs policy programme of the Transnational Institute. “Accusing the Lib Dems of being ‘soft on drugs and thugs’ is a cheap populist slogan that tries to hide the Labour Party's own co-responsibility for destroying the future of thousands of people by giving them a criminal record for no good reason at all."
The recent publication of two single pieces of legislation - the amended 1993 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law and the first National Drug Control Policy - is likely to form the basis of Myanmar’s drug policy for several years to come. What does it mean for the country’s transition towards an evidence-based approach to drug control, and how can the gaps between the two documents be addressed?
At a press conference in New York on Tuesday 26 October, 2010, at the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly, one of the UN’s key human rights experts will call for a fundamental rethink of international drug policy. Anand Grover, from India, is the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, whose mandate is derived from the UN Human Rights Council.
The new president of France, François Hollande, is not likely to change cannabis policies. His choice as Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, is a declared opponent to any reform on cannabis. During the election campaign, Hollande already opposed the proposal to convert the criminal offence of cannabis use into misdemeanour, put forward by his security adviser and mayor of Dijon, François Rebsamen. Hollande did not want to “give any signal foregoing a deterrent against the use of cannabis."
On August 25, 2009, Argentina’s Supreme Court of Justice of Argentina unanimously declared to be unconstitutional the second paragraph of Article 14 of the country’s drug control legislation (Law Number 23,737), which punishes the possession of drugs for personal consumption with prison sentences ranging from one month to two years (although education or treatment measures can be substitute penalties). According to the Court, the unconstitutionality of the article is applicable to cases of drug possession for personal consumption that does not affect others.